'April fool?' asked one friend on Facebook. 'You should write an article entitled "I told you so",' declared another by text. The frenzy surrounding the announcement that Nuts magazine is to cease publication has been largely jubilant among the feminist community. But whilst the collapse of this ten-year-old bastion of misogyny represents a victory for equality of sorts, it by no means marks the end of female objectification or pornification of our society.
Allow me to clarify a few things, before you scroll down and reach for the Comments box.
1) I adore men - I really do. In my life I have worked with men, lived with men, fallen in love with men, studied alongside men, played sport with men and generally had a blast with the men in my life. I say this because I'm aware that when a woman hits out at misogyny, there are always people who inexplicably and mistakenly assume that she is ultimately hitting out at men. (The comments beneath Laura Bates' recent article on sexism in the technology industry illustrate this depressingly well.) I strive for equality. Surely we all do? Countries with a more balanced society function better economically, politically and socially. We all benefit.
2) I am also a big fan of nudity, sex, sexiness and sexual relationships. I say this because often, when a woman shuns exploitative or objectifying images of women, she is seen as shunning the sight of naked flesh. She is deemed frigid, humourless, jealous; a killjoy and a prude - or of course, a lesbian. (Just look at the way Clare Short has been alienated and belittled over the years by 'honourable' MPs and the media in her fight against degrading images of women.) Sex is cool. Exploitative misogyny is not.
3) Just to save you the trouble of pointing it out: Yes, women's glossy magazines can be almost as bad as lads' mags when it comes to airbrushing and aspirations of 'beauty'. I know, I know. But this is about lads' mags.
Ten years ago, two magazines launched in quick succession, capitalising on the heady days of noughties 'laddism'. Zoo and Nuts competed against one another in tit-count (yes, it is said that each publication would tot up the number of nipples appearing in their rival's edition) as young, naked girls were positioned on all fours, sucking lollypops and fondling their double-F cups for the camera.
Nothing wrong with that, many suggested, when the likes of OBJECT started to suggest that portraying women solely as sex objects to impressionable boys and young men was irresponsible and made equality less attainable.
Unfortunately, there was - and is - plenty wrong with this kind of portrayal of women in mainstream media. If young men (and let's not forget, young women) get used to seeing females as mute, subservient, sexual objects that have been polished, positioned and posed to meet men's needs, they will consciously or subconsciously make assumptions about the roles of men and women in society. Having worked as an investment banker in the early noughties, I can testify that we had, and still have, a long way to go before we achieve gender equality in the workplace.
It's what lads want, they argued, when OBJECT suggested that the magazines were giving unrealistic ideas about relationships and young women and that objectification of girls in the media provided a context for violence against women.
In the words of Jo, an ex-sex worker who was prostituted from the age of 13: "When was the last time you enjoyed being penetrated by twenty lairy, half-pissed blokes who spit all over you, call you a variety of names, and demand you act as though you are really getting off on it in an evening, every evening?"
It's only banter, they replied, when OBJECT protested against misogynistic phrases in the editorial content that were indistinguishable from the words of convicted rapists. ("A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.")
In 2006, OBJECT sent every MP in the House of Commons a copy of the Sport newspaper, asking why it was being sold as a national newspaper. MPs' assistants thought they had been sent hard core pornography by a sexual psychopath. The Sport folded in 2011. In response to a parallel campaign by OBJECT, a voluntary code of practice is now in place to limit the visibility of sexually graphic magazines and newspapers and ensure that they are displayed above children's eye level. The 'modesty cover' now in operation in most supermarkets and newsagents was the nail in Nuts' coffin, killing off an already dying brand. Zoo will most likely go the same way.
So, no more Nuts. It's a small step forward, but lads' mags were never the whole problem. They were part-cause, part-effect of a gradual sexualisation of our society. As the Leveson Inquiry revealed, sexism is 'endemic' in the portrayal of women in British newspapers. Music videos teach young girls that 'sexy' is the ultimate aspiration. (When I go into schools, most girls don't know who Jessica Ennis is. They all know and love Rihanna.) The demise of lads' mags is, of course, partly due to the free and easily available pornography online. One third of 11- to 14-year-olds have watched porn on their phone or tablet and of these, half claim it affects their relationships. The problems are multi-faceted and interwoven, but they are not insurmountable, as campaigners have proven.
Paul Williams, managing director of IPC's Inspire division, said this week: "After 10 years, we have taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of Nuts and exit the young men's lifestyle sector."
Young men's lifestyle? This explains a lot. IPC has spent ten years monetizing degrading images of young women alongside 'rape jokes' and misogynistic editorial content. Meanwhile, the world has moved on. We are striving to bring about lifestyles that involve friendship, fairness and respect for women. Perhaps the collapse of Nuts will prompt publishers to get on board.
Polly Courtney is author of It's a Man's World, the unflinching take on a young woman's experiences heading up a leading UK lads' mag.Suggest a correction